Have you ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes at Leo’s? On this debut episode of “All in a day’s Work on the Hilltop,” multimedia staffer Georgia Chen (COL ’25), spoke to Kam Lam Wong, a worker at Leo J. O’Donovan Dining Hall for over 29 years.
Tune in to hear Wong talk about how she started working at Georgetown and to discuss a day in her life, including what goes on behind the scenes at Leo’s.
GC: This is Georgia Chen for The Hoya. Welcome to the first installment of All in a Day’s Work on the Hilltop, a series focusing on the Georgetown workers behind the scenes who help make campus run smoothly. This week, I had the opportunity to speak with Kam Lam Wong, a Georgetown employee who has worked at Leo’s, specifically the salad station, for over 29 years. So, without further ado, here’s Kam on her experience working at Leo’s. Kam is an immigrant from Hong Kong, and what brought her to America was the opportunity to find a job.
Kam: When I came here, I looked for a job, my auntie told me that somebody can hear me, and I’m working here.
GC: Oh, so you have any connection to Georgetown?
GC: So do you have family here?
KLW: Yeah my husband is here and my husband’s family is here.
GC: Do you have children or not?
KLW:: Hm? Oh no, I don’t have children. But I have a godson and goddaughter.
GC: Oh godson and goddaughter!
KLW: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
GC: How has your job changed since you first started – because you’ve worked here for 29 years, right?
KLW: Yeah, before when I came, it looked like only food service and cleaning up tables and that’s it. And maybe after six, six months, I like dessert, I worked in dessert! The dessert department, like the sweet. The job [is] the same thing.
GC: Same thing?
KLW: Yeah, they cut the cake, serve the cake and cookies, and then later I changed to cooking! I cooked pizza. I don’t know how long I cooked pizza, but now I changed to food service here, the salad bar. Before here, upstairs was usually the same thing [as] the cafeteria buffet, but now it changed to each company selling only their own food.
GC: Is it harder working here now than it was before? Or when you first started? Or is it about the same? Or is it easier?
KLW: The same, not hard, not easy. You see, that’s good. I can control.
GC: You can control it.
KLW: Yeah I can control. No problem because when you work for so long, you know how to work and how to service the students, which is good. No problem for me.
GC: What is your favorite part about working here?
KLW: My favorite part is the vegetarian bar, food bar, salad bar, it’s good for me too because there’s no meat all the time. I am vegetarian. Yeah so, before when I was working in the dessert section that was really good, I didn’t touch meat. It’s really good. I like it. But they change, change, change, and now I came to the salad bar, which is good. Many many years ago, I was at the salad bar too, but now we changed; the routine isn’t coming back. That’s good, I like the salad bar.
GC: Do you get to have any say in what’s on the menu or not?
KLW: Usually, the manager decides, but we can change if I don’t see it anymore, maybe I don’t have time to ask the manager.
GC: So if it’s like in the rush of the moment you have to change the menu a little bit?
KLW: Not change, because at the salad bar you can only put green on the line. Only green is okay. Not anything different. If it’s like cooking, they should follow the menu. But if there are no, no stuff, the manager can decide to change it – what kind of food is on the line.
GC: How have the employees like the other employees here changed?
KLW: I think it doesn’t matter when I’m coming here, my English is not too good.
GC: Your English is great!
KLW: Now it is okay, not great, and then everybody who works together is like a family.
GC: Who’s your favorite co-worker?
KLW: Oh, we are only working, not too much – no fighting okay?
GC: No fighting, no fighting.
KLW: Yeah so I can’t say who is my favorite. You’re just coming to work, and then everyone works, no problem.
GC: Do you feel like you’re really friends with your co-workers? Like do you ever hang out with them outside of work?
KLW: I have dinner at home, but sometimes I cook at home and they are coming to eat dinner at my home
GC: People like who work here come to eat at your house?
KLW: Yeah, many years ago students that I have interviewed, students came to my home, from my country.
GC: Students come to your house to eat sometimes?
KLW: Long time ago because they are from my country.
KLW: You know this Chinese candy?
GC: Oh my gosh! Yes!
KLW: A cookie. A cookie for you.
GC: For me?
GC: Oh my gosh, thank you!
KLW: You’re welcome! Because I like my country, the students come and talk to me and are friendly.
GC: At this moment, Kam pulled out a Chinese sweet in a plastic red wrapper, called a brittle horn cookie, to give to me for Lunar New Year.
GC: Do you feel happy seeing other fellow Asian students or people?
KLW: Because it’s the same language, I can talk to the students, but if like now, we’re talking. But only working is no problem, only working, the students ask for more and I can serve them that. That’s easier than how we’re talking right now. So this is good for my country. My country, the students coming to talk to me and yeah.
GC: You know, for me like I love – I don’t know if you’ve been watching the Olympics, but seeing China doing well in the Olympics. I just really like seeing my people doing well.
GC: Speaking of students, are they – since you’ve seen you know, a lot of students pass by every day – are they politer now or ruder now?
KLW: All the students are nice, that’s good, they always say “thank you, thank you.” I’m really happy.
GC: Makes you happy?
KLW: Yeah because they’re friendly, they say thank you, they are very friendly, they talk to you, they say thank you when you serve them. But a long time ago, some students were no good. They threw the tongs, now we have service, but before the students served the food for themselves, and we only changed the food. I don’t know why they were so angry—
GC: Like throw stuff?
GC: Oh so when it was self service, they would just like throw the stuff down –
KLW: Not just stuff – the tongs.
Georgia: Oh like the tongs and the spoons?
Kam: Yeah, and then everything got dirty.
Georgia: Did you have to clean that up after them?
Kam: The cleaning is no problem, but you see it, and then other students come and think to themselves, “ew why is it really dirty? It looks like you don’t service well.” So that makes other students mad too.
GC: So speaking of, what can students do to make your job easier?
KLW: No problem. Everybody’s good, no no, all of the students are good. Sometimes they ask for a little bit more, and I give them a little bit more. No, no problem.
GC: You’re very kind. You’re very generous.
KLW: No, they are okay, because the students are my customers. Yeah, but sometimes they ask for a lot, a lot, a lot, not a little bit more. A lot, a lot, a lot more. Some students come in and say, “I’m really hungry, I need more.” Okay, that’s okay.
GC: They’re just hungry kids.
KLW: They get more, yeah.
GC: So does it ever bother you if students say they don’t like the food at Leo’s?
KLW: No, because with the salad, you have a choice, you are looking at which one options are healthy for you. That’s no problem, I think it’s good. No more saying, “ew yucky,” because if you don’t like this station you can go to another station and get your favorite food.
GC: True. So the salad bar is more like people go in knowing that they like salad?
KLW: Yeah. They get green because they get a pizza and then come in to get a salad because the salad bar is healthy. Every couple years they eat more salad because they – I think the students know everything that is green is healthy.
GC: I already asked you what’s the best part of working but what’s the worst part of working here?
KLW: Worst part? The worst part of working is cleaning up the tables.
GC: Cleaning the tables?
KLW: Yeah, cleaning up tables, and then maybe cutting the honeydew, cantaloupe, and then the cookies and cake.
GC: So, like cutting and cleaning things?
GC: Yeah, totally makes sense. What do you do in your free time?
KLW: My free time? Only free time I have here is 30 minutes. We eat here.
GC: Oh but like outside of work, what do you do for fun?
KLW: Oh on my off days? I am only at home cooking, or with friends, or walking the – how do I say – going to the park. Go to the park, like the garden.
GC: Oh so you go walk in the park and, like, look at the gardens and stuff?
GC: That’s nice. What do you miss the most about Hong Kong?
KLW: In China, the food, it’s different from the food here. The American food here is different.
GC: So true. Yeah, my mom is from Taiwan. And I’ve been to Taiwan a couple times and the food is just, it’s just so much better there.
KLW: Haha yeah. I don’t know. I don’t eat meat, but when I came here, there were no Chinese ingredients like Yu Choy or Bok Choy, I didn’t have that one when I came here. Only broccoli and lettuce.
GC: Do you eat mapo tofu?
KLW: Tofu is good, yeah I eat tofu.
GC: I love tofu.
KLW: Yeah, before I came here, I didn’t have tofu. Only the Chinese markets had tofu. Now, everywhere has tofu, which is very good. Now, being vegetarian for me is easier than when I first came here, I could not find vegetarian food.
GC: So it’s easier to be vegetarian now than it was before.
GC: I see. Yeah. That makes sense. And then, where do you sort of see yourself in the next five to ten years?
KLW: Next ten years? I don’t know, I think I want to go to a retirement home.
GC: You want to retire at a home?
KLW: Yeah. I think before, I wanted to retire and then go somewhere to travel, but now I think I still want to work because I don’t want to stay at home, and then I can come into work and then have fun with the students and with my co-workers.
GC: So you like coming to work to see the students and the co-workers?
GC: Alright, thank you again so much.
KLW: Thank you.
GC: Thank you. This has been “All in a Day’s Work on the Hilltop.” My name is Georgia Chen, and thank you for listening.